Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 11 March 2011 00:00
At the March 7 Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education Meeting, the board went through the proposed budget on a department-by-department basis. In addition, Kim Parahus, the district’s Director of School Facilities and Operations II Buildings and Grounds, went through how the capital reserve fund, approved by the community in May 2010, will be spent on capital improvements throughout the district.
While an item called “Possible Budget Reductions” was on the agenda for the evening, the only reduction discussed was the possibility of putting the cost of field trip transportation back on the parents whose children would be taking the trips; Superintendent Gerard Dempsey said that they were not ready to present the reductions yet, and should proceed with the budget review instead.
Several departments’ costs are proposed to decrease next year: Pupil Personnel Services (-15.4 percent), Research/Media (-2.3 percent), Private and Parochial School Textbooks (-3 percent), WPOB radio station, (-13 percent) and the Senior Citizens Club Budget (-14.6 percent.) Departments seeing significant increases include Technology (6.7 percent), Art (7 percent) and Adult Education (7.95 percent.) The costs for both Library and Transportation/Health and Safety are slated to go up less than 1 percent.
In Technology, the 6.7 percent budget increase is due to the continuation of the district’s initiative to get interactive whiteboards into all classrooms where they are needed; while not every classroom requires a whiteboard, technology director Guy Lodico noted that after the 2011-2012 school year, the district should be approaching complete saturation as far as this technology is concerned.
In Art, the 7 percent increase is due to the need for nine additional digital cameras. Board President Gary Bettan reiterated his concern from a previous meetings that the students should have access to a media lab with up-to-date computers in order to be able to run current software, such as the more recent versions of the Adobe suite of art programs, without having to lose time waiting for the computers to render their choices. It was agreed that Lodico would investigate this possibility. In addition, the need for new digital cameras is the reason for the small increase (.4 percent) in the Library budget.
In Music, the budget increase of 2.3 percent is due to two factors: the fact that some new instruments must be purchased, and the fact that theater program supplies have gone up; due to the size of the auditorium, Mattlin Middle School cannot raise as much money through ticket sales to their school plays as other schools, and thus needs more support for their theater program.
There were some nuances to consider in regard to the Adult Education program, because while instructor fees have gone up (leading to the 7.95 percent projected increase), the budget is calculated on the assumption that all classes will be given, which is not necessarily the case; classes that do not receive sufficient enrollment will not be offered. In addition, the SAT prep class that has been discussed at recent meetings could be given through the Adult Ed department, which could change the budget numbers.
In Transportation/ Health and Safety, while the overall budget has gone up .5 percent, the cost of BOCES transportation has gone down significantly, from $436,364 to $255,150. Bettan noted his concern about field trip transportation costs, stating that while the decision for the district to cover the cost of field trip transportation in years past (in addition to the educational component of the trip that the district is required to cover by law), that policy may not be right for the current financial climate.
“The field trip transportation budget is over $200,000; if we were to pass 50-75 percent of these costs back to the parents whose children were taking the trips, we could save $100,000 to $150,000, which could be put back into program needs and staffing,” said Bettan. Assistant Superintendent for Business Ryan Ruf said that he would look into that possibility.
The last budget category was Buildings and Grounds, which is slated to go up by 2.4 percent, due in no small part to the county-imposed $95,000 Sewer Usage Fee that the district is currently involved in legal action against. The cost in fuel oil has decreased from last year’s budget from $567,480 to $526,750, something that board member Ginger Lieberman noted she was uncomfortable with, during the unpredictable fluctuations in the price of gasoline and oil due to the volatile geopolitical climate. Ruf stated that the reduced oil budget was adequate, while Lieberman respectfully disagreed.
After the budget review, Parahus described how the funds in the capital reserve fund will be spent: capital reserve fund project areas include masonry reconstruction, window replacement, asphalt and curb replacement district-wide, roof recoats and replacements, heating and ventilating upgrades districtwide, and an upgrade of the current phone system for cost savings.
In a building-by-building breakdown of capital project costs, Plainview-Old Bethpage Middle School is slated for the most changes, with over a million dollars in capital improvements planned; the total cost of all of these capital improvements will be $5,212,000, virtually depleting the Capital Reserve Fund. Due to the great infrastructure needs of the district’s aging buildings, Parahus and Ruf explained the logic of using the funds now to do this much-needed work.
One item not on the capital improvement agenda is the locker rooms for the middle schools, which one resident takes issue with. During public participation, a concerned parent noted that while he appraised the board of the condition of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Middle School locker room months ago, nothing had been done. “My kids participate in sports; it’s disgusting,” he said. In response, Parahus said that while there are no funds for a complete locker room reconfiguration, her maintenance staff will be going into the team locker room over the Easter recess to do sanding, repainting, and replace light fixtures. The parent also noted that he felt the district athletic fields were filled with divots and ditches, and therefore unsafe.
Jonathan Mosenson, president of the JFK High School PTA, stated that the PTA members did not support the proposed staffing cuts in the first draft of the budget, even though the high school parents are no longer in a position to see their children benefit from programs like the Science Enrichment Element. “Let’s not be held by some artificial or psychological tax levy number, [like] ‘we want to stay under 3.0,” he said, also noting that most of the parents he had polled at the most recent PTA meeting were willing to pay more to keep such valuable enrichment programs. “We can’t afford to limit our kids.”
Also during public participation, two concerned parents spoke up in favor of Science Enrichment Element, which is currently scheduled to be cut due to staffing reductions, however the curriculum would be incorporated by classroom teachers to some extent. Between this meeting and the previous, many parents have stated that they do not wish to see that particular program cut.
The next meeting of the board of education will be Monday, March 14 at Mattlin Middle School; the budget is slated for adoption at the Monday, April 4 meeting.